Saturday, February 9, 2013

What about drama?

The preschoolers, all at once, are freezing cold, shivering, moaning, shaking from the extraordinary snowstorm and its ferocious wind, struggling to hold onto their packages.  Their faces are grimaced and their footsteps are heavy, as they stomp through snow which is now up to their knees.

 "Whooooooo!,"  shrieks the wind, "Go back! Go back!"

"No!," they all yell bravely at the wind, "No! I'm not turning back!  I must carry this dress to the duchess!"

The Big Cats were enjoying "drama," the book Brave Irene by William Steig, brought to life through their re-enactment of its basic plot.

To the outside, untrained eye - my room is noisy, children moving every which way, clutching sheets of strangely folded paper.  However, I am, once again, amazed at the total focus of these preschoolers - how each and every child is on task, enjoying the acting, following the script.  All eyes and ears are on me and my directions, as I guide them through the story line...the first time I have ever shared this book with them.

This acute focus - it's not me.  It's the dramatic play.

Preschoolers need to live and breathe their learning, to feel it in their core.

Why not act out great stories together?

We only dramatized the first part of the story, up until the wind whips open the package that Irene is carrying and sends the beautiful dress floating up and away.  (A large electric fan sent the lightweight dancing scarves sailing through our classroom.)

The actors are working hard to pack up their dresses for the duchess.

At this exciting "intermission," I ask the children to predict what will happen next in the story and to use pastels and paint to create the image of this prediction.


Here are the preschoolers' predictions about what happens next, interspersed with some samples of their beautiful artwork about Brave Irene.

"She is wet, the scarf falls out, and she is brave, and me and my Mom dug her out in the snow and we go inside and we eat."

"The dress goes away and monsters eat her. They make a scary face."

"She just goes back to her Mom and tells her 'I dropped it.' And this is her house."

"She goes to the palace.  I don’t know about the dress!"

"The fan blows my thing."

"There is a rocket and a girl.  It flies with her to get the dress and it goes with the girl to the ball."

"The wind gets Irene.  The snowstorm."

"That’s Irene.  That’s the sky and the package."

"Irene gets to the palace.  The dress waits at a tree there for her."

"These are hands and eyes in the snow."

"I think a ghost comes to it."

"A picture of her Mom sick."

"There is wind and snow."

"A picture of the snow falling down on the ground and she has the empty package.  These are snow."

"I think she is going to cry."

"The girl is happy.  She is all the way under the snow, but she climbs under the road and sneaks into a witch’s house and fights off the witch, kicking her out and putting her in jail."
Sarah Lydia

"She is happy because she is not scared of anything."

"The fan is blowing up up up and down.  And Irene has a new box."

"A pretty scarf with pink and black and white and the wind takes it off.  It’s going to blow her away, too."

"She’s making her own dress with the snow."

"The wind is blowing so hard it blows the package all the way to the palace."


Several years ago, I attended a fabulous training workshop at The Lucy School with Sarah Pleydell and Victoria Brown and about the use of dramatic play in the classroom.  This lesson about Brave Irene is taken from their book, The Dramatic Difference: Drama in the Preschool and Kindergarten Classroom (2000).

Yes, we had a lot of fun "playing" with this story together.
But, what is the learning?

The Lucy School training participants collectively brainstormed just a few of the things that children learn from drama:

• it is a great pre-literacy tool; becoming good readers requires entering the story and acting lets children do that,
• drama teaches the structure of stories – beginning, middle, and end,
• it is a great way to engage active learners and, conversely, shy children,
• drama helps children learn to self – regulate, as seen by speaking in varied tones of voices, moving in unique ways, and
• it provides a fun starting point for talking and exploring subjects and exploring feelings, such as disappointment, anger, bravery, kindness.

My fabulous Teaching Resident, Laura McCarthy, noted a lot of the learning is social emotional, perhaps even encouraging empathy, because the children are actually turning into the character.

What did the children think?

 "That was awesome!" Jack exclaimed. 

 “That was really cool!” said Charlie.

Later, during choice time, Soren said he was "playing brave."  I asked him how this game is played and he said, "Well, scary things are going to come and we are not going to get scared."

Thank you, Brave Irene!  Thank you, dramatic play!

1 comment:

  1. Maureen. you know that I love Brave Irene! I have used it for so many things, & now you've shown me another idea-so wonderful! I don't always do these kinds of things with those who teach the youngest in our school, but I will share with the teachers. It sounds like a very exciting time, & thanks for all the photos, too!